Shakespeare’s sonnet 116, published in the year of 1609, under the name of “Let me not to the Marriage of True Minds”, is one of the most recognized sonnets of the Elizabethan period. As a rumination of love, the poem deals with the commonplace theme of love of the poet for his beloved. Love has always remained a popular and recurrent theme in the poems of the Elizabethan poets, and the theme of love has always found representation in the sonnets of Shakespeare. Almost in each of his sonnets, Shakespeare has articulated love, and his poems are but a variation of the very same theme (Rudenstine 22).
Sir Philip Sydney, Edmund Spencer, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and many others have written sonnets, celebrating the theme of true love for their beloved women, and yet the sonnets of Shakespeare can be highly distinguished from the rest. The major reason behind this, is that Shakespeare’s sonnet 116, describes his unconditional and unalloyed love for the fair youth, and hence it seeks to defend the love from the narrow limitations and parochial thoughts of the society. It is a well-known fact, each of the sonnets lying in the range between Sonnet 1 to Sonnet 126, deal with the love of the poet for the young man, referred to as the “Fair Youth”.
In the very first line of the poem, the poet speaks of true love that does not yield to “impediments”. This may remind the reader of Antonio, of The Merchant of Venice, whose untold grief over the departure of his friend, Bassanio was caused mainly because of his inability to express his feelings of love for the male friend. The poet seems to acknowledge the impediments that come along the way, when a man professes his love for another man. The poet here refers to the integral and essential quality of the emotional union of “two minds”, the love of which does not rely on any factor, imposed by the society (Pfister 250-256). Love arises out of the reconciliation of two souls, and it is not validated by any traditional ceremony, such as marriage. The first line emphasizes the importance, of marriage of souls, which discards the importance of social rituals, accompanying the wedding of two individuals.
True love does not alter, as per the societal expectations, and remains unaltered. According to Shakespeare, a true lover does not yield or submit to any obstacle, nor does it undergo the slightest possible change after “brief hours and weeks”, as steadfastness essentially defines the feeling of true love. The poet likens the true love, with the evening star, which is fixed, immovable and self-contained (Fernie 291). Shakespeare makes a plea to his lover, to stay consistent in love, instead of being influenced by external forces that can negatively affect his love. The external forces, described through the image of the “tempests”, imply the social obstacles that impede the potential growth of the poet’s love with his friend. Shakespeare argues that true love has the power to resist and defeat the intervention of any kind of external force. Hence the poet suggests that his beloved friend should oppose the societal restrictions challenging the validity of their love, rather than getting persuaded by the same.
Constancy and steadfastness best define the essence of true love. Shakespeare claims that true love exists in itself, unaffected by, and defending the forces of the society, time and space. Though the poet says that true love is capable of resisting the effects of time, on the beauty of the beloved, he also seems to suggest that the physical aspect of the beloved, does not determine the love of the individual (Summers 5). Even if the beloved is a man, he can continue to be loved by the lover, provided true, unconditional love exists between the two. Finally, the poet talks of the eternity of true love, a common theme dealt in many sonnets of Shakespeare, and Edmund Spencer. In the final quatrain, the poet reaffirms the essential attribute of true love-immortality that defies the superiority of time and fate. In the manner of a typical Elizabethan sonnet, the poem reinforces the conviction of the poet regarding the eternity of true love. However, unlike the other sonnets of the time, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 does not predict the immortality of his amorous relation with his friend, but rather sums up the quality of true love, to share his view with the friend (Faimberg 116).
One of the dominant literary themes of the Elizabethan poetry was courtly love of the poet for his beloved. However, unlike most of the other poems, this love sonnet of Shakespeare was not written with the purpose of wooing his beloved. The poem rather sums up the poet’s reflection on the essential qualities of true love. Hence, the sonnet is a love poem, and yet does not deal with the traditional theme of courtly love of a man for a woman.
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